I’m no longer a new mom. My squirming, little bundle of joy is now a toddler. As I write this, he is emerging into an independent little person, with his own distinct personality and quirks. I’ve thought so many times about penning down the various bits of knowledge that I’ve picked up over the last 14 months of mommydom. After all, I am now that veteran mom, complete with battle scars (you know the usual: stretch marks, dark circles, spit up and poop etc.) and a google fueled battle plan. So I told myself this morning that I was now ready to share my words of wisdom with other new moms. Well, here goes nothing.
When I think back to that first year of motherhood, the journey was pretty much a jumble of extreme emotions, hard work, joy, tears and ups and downs. The new mommy version of me spent that first year in nail-biting anxiety trying to prove herself to some non-existent court of mommy judgers (I know that they do exist in real life and online, but at that point, I had not crossed paths with any). To this date I still wonder what I was trying to prove. Now that I’ve had time to think about it, I believe it was probably my own preconceived standard of lofty motherhood. Suffice to say that it did not turn out as I expected.
I imagined that motherhood would be as easy as it looks from the outside. I’ve seen family, friends and my own mother handle their kids effortlessly. I guess I though it would be a breeze. I was obviously very wrong. I imagined that we would bring home this adorable baby, who would breastfeed occasionally and sleep like an angel. I would only have to deal with stinky diapers and maybe some spit up; I told myself in pleasant anticipation of the fun to be had. I did come down to reality with a bang.
My baby was not a great sleeper and loved to be held ALL the time. Having very few hours of disturbed sleep every night, turned me into a crazy, zombie mommy, who cried and had meltdowns every single day. He also suffered from mild reflux (GRE), which can increase spit up and vomiting due to a poorly coordinated gastrointestinal tract. He could not be laid down flat to sleep in his cute little bassinet because of this. I barely slept the first few months, mostly in fear that he would choke on his own spit up.
I also imagined that I would breastfeed like some mythical goddess whose boobs were overflowing with milk. In reality, I had supply issues in the beginning and had to supplement with formula for a time. Baby also had trouble latching, so I had sore nipples and was in excruciating pain for months. But I was determined to breastfeed, because I’d heard about the benefits for both mom and baby. I had also convinced myself that I had to succeed at breastfeeding to be a good mother.
Today I know better and I would totally formula feed if breastfeeding didn’t work out for some reason. But at that point, just having to feed the baby formula for a few short weeks made me feel like a failure. I’d also like to say that I am still breastfeeding my 14 month old, so this was one very hard-won victory.
I was also overwhelmed by the baby and drove my mother and my husband crazy with my OCD behavior. I would watch my son sleep just to make sure he was breathing, and I was paranoid about germs. I felt guilty because I felt that I should be handling motherhood so much better, after all I had read all the books and joined all the mommy groups on Facebook. I would also imagine all sorts of terrible things happening to the baby because I was a bad mother. I would feel a terrible sadness and cry hysterically for no reason.
I realized much later, after doing some reading on the subject, that postpartum depression and anxiety is very common among new mothers. And I definitely displayed a few of the symptoms of PPD. Somehow we got through that first year with lots of help from my long suffering husband (he bore the brunt of my meltdowns) and our respective mothers who took turns helping out.
Now as we coast down year two of unchartered territory, I realize that the last thing I want to do is bury you new moms in an avalanche of ‘you shoulds’. What I do want to say to you is that there is no ‘right way’ to parent your child. (For a while I did believe that google was the answer to all baby rearing problems and my husband will attest to this). I have since then come to realize that the longer we parent, the more trust we can place on our internal compass (i.e our gut) to guide us. And added with some simple common sense, we can stay true to our values and beliefs as we try to parent our little ones.
While I’d love to tell you moms what to do, I don’t believe that my way is the only way or the best way to parent. Though I’d be happy to share tips and experiences in the future; you won’t hear me shoving unwanted advice down your throat.